Welcome back to another episode of Anime Pocket Reviews!
Before we get into it, I would like to say a huge thank you for the likes on our last episode. Every like means a lot to us here, so thank you so much, and I hope you keep enjoying this series!
We’re back to the triple-headers this time! Later on we review one of the big series from the end of last year alongside a relatively unknown high-school comedy. We also take a look at those series that are strangely difficult to finish, but first we have a mature romance to share…
Natsuyuki Rendezvous (2012, S1, 11x24mins)
“I’m so close, but can’t even cover her with a single blanket.”
Ryousuke Hazuki (left) is a young man with a crush. His heart has been stolen by the cute owner of a local florist, Rokka Shimao (centre). In an attempt to get close to her he begins working part-time at the florist, but as he begins to get her attention he suddenly encounters the ghost of her dead husband haunting the shop. Hazuki is the only person who can see Atsushi (right), who is determined to stop him getting close to his wife. Hazuki is just as determined, though, causing a complex love-triangle to form as Hazuki tries to save Rokka’s lonely heart.
Basically Plot: Young and lovestruck Ryousuke finally manages to win over the attentions of the cute florist owner Rokka, only to be blocked by the ghost of her late husband in this inter-dimensional love triangle.
This story has a wonderfully anime idea – a story about a young adult who is love with the mature florist owner, who upon getting close to her begins to get irritatingly blocked by the ghost of her dead husband. I’m not sure what I expected as this took an incredibly long amount of time to complete, but I’m sure that I was hoping for something more enjoyable to watch than this.
With the subject matter being quite adult, the show could have gone either way – it could have been a funny story with a sentimental twist, or be sentimental the whole way through about the widowed woman. In the end it leaned towards the latter, which while being interesting enough, wasn’t ever enough to get me hooked on it. Now, I should note that I have something of a track record when it comes to struggling to finish slow, serious series – more on this later. That being said, Natsuyuki Rendezvous almost felt like it didn’t have enough content for an 11-episode series. The romance between Ryousuke and Rokka is slow and not exciting to watch – a situation not helped by Ryousuke’s constantly depressed demeanour – which means this show condenses down to meaningful revelations from Rokka about her late husband and little else of interest until the finish.
In the end this series is simply fine. It quietly steps up, delivers a mild story with some interesting themes and walks out without leaving much of an impression. I’m not the biggest fan of series of this nature, but there’s not quite enough for this to appeal to fans of either romance or fantasy series. Instead, this is just a very mature, very mild show that I almost feel would have made a better movie than anime series due to its inability to sustain engaging content in the middle episodes.
ANIME RANKING: #90 – Unfortunately, this romance without a particularly exciting romance and with memorable moments countable on one hand suffers on our Anime Ranking. The less said about this rank, the better…
If you liked this you’ll love: Kids on the Slope (#33) – Fans of the more mature style of romance anime will love the smooth, patiently paced romance that is to be found in Kids on the Slope which, for me, is one of the most underrated romantic anime series there is. While on the face of it a musical coming-of-age story, KotS has a selection of very real and intimate relationships – from the teenage love-triangle to adults meeting at a bar, there’s plenty of love in this series to suit all tastes.
D-Frag! (2014, S1, 12x24mins)
Comedy, Slice-of-Life, Romance
“If you want to accomplish something, you must be prepared to dirty your hands.”
Kenji Kazama (right) begins life at a Fujou Academy with one ambition, to establish himself and his group as the most recognised delinquents in the school. Then he stumbles upon a fire in the tiny games club room. He helps the girls put the fire out, only for him and his friends to be attacked and kidnapped by them. Not allowed to escape their clutches until he signs a form agreeing to join their club, Kazama is forced into becoming a member, and soon discovers just how annoying they really are as he gets dragged along through their shenanigans.
Basically Plot: A wannabe high-school rebel is forced into joining a quirky, all-female gaming club, and against his will becomes involved in their backwards high-school lives.
D-Frag was really easy viewing. I think I must have watched all episodes in about a week, or so. Initially I really didn’t expect anything from this, and it’s worth saying at this point that this is certainly not a series that offers any sort of depth of character or plot. However, D-Frag is a wonderful piece of fanservice to high-school comedy titles. A harem at heart, this show, without ever really doing anything exceptional, ticks so many boxes. The poster character of the series, the diminutive Shibasaki Roka (top in the header image), is a delightful character, with flicky blonde hair and a cute face that is perfect for this kind of show. Also, the other characters, each with their own clear identities – from the mischievous Sakura, to the ‘tsundere’, obliviously lovestruck Takao, and even the pervy male and female side-characters Ataru and Tsutsumi – all fill out clear roles in a cast sheet that would definitely score full-house on a ‘stereotypical high-school comedy characters’ bingo sheet.
The comedy is good, but not worth writing home about. I must say that there were some moments in each episode where I would laugh out loud. However, this is a result of the shows comedic style, which is like a blizzard of jokes. D-Frag has a mantra, which reads something like this: ‘If we put one-hundred small jokes in a 24-minute period, then logic dictates that some of them have to stick’. I’ve seen silly little comedies with lots of jokes before, but this is something else!
Almost all of the jokes revolve around Kazama’s dialogue with the viewer, which basically spells out the joke the others created, in case you missed it – a “That’s not normal!” or a “You just did the same!” after every quirky bit of scene. This often works in anime – Wagnaria does this style of comedy really well with its similarly disillusioned lead character. The difference between that comedic classic and this, though, is that while Wagnaria may do it 5-10 times in an episode, there are examples in D-Frag where Kazama literally shouts it after every line in dialogue. There is always a time, nearly in every episode, when you’re just sick of hearing his shouting voice, as if you wouldn’t have understood what was happening without him.
The repetitive comedy aside, this is still a show that will appeal to a lot of anime fans. Heart-warmingly cliché, and with a lead-character to die for, it would be harsh to say that D-Frag is, like many other series of this ilk, ‘in one ear and out the other’. There’s more to it than that, and while it is not without its problems, it does a lot of things right, too.
ANIME RANKING: #64 – A solid ranking for a series with little scope, placing it just behind major titles such as Blood Lad and “Is It Wrong…?”!
If you liked this you’ll love: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (#53) – These are two high-school comedies that share breakneck speed and pure feel-good comedy throughout. While the genders are somewhat reversed in Nozaki-kun with its lead girl, people who loved watching the antics of D-Frag’s many side-characters will be equally pleased with the great cast set in Nozaki-kun!
Blend-S (2017, S1, 12x23mins)
“We have a new friend!”
BLEND-S follows Maika Sakuranomiya (right), a kind-hearted but misfortunate high-schooler. She has dreams of one day studying abroad, and needs a part-time job to save money, but no one will hire her because of the scary look she pulls when she smiles. Then, one day she is spotted by a love-struck Dino, the foreign owner of a very particular maid café where each waitress fulfils a certain character trait. Dino gives Maika a job playing the ‘sadistic’ maid at his small restaurant, and with the help of the other workers and Dino she begins to settle into life at the quirky café.
Basically Plot: Follows the adventures of Maika, the newest employee at a maid café where each waitress plays a certain character trait, finally putting to use the terrifying eyes that had caused Maika such grief growing up.
Blend-S is a classic example of a series whose story sounds quite uncomfortable to western ears. This is the type of show that makes your non-anime friends cringe – girls playing maids for an adult café owner who is desperate to confess his love to one of his particularly doe-eyed employees. However, this has been a plenty popular series among anime fans who have learned over time to take such pervy plots with a pinch of salt.
Early on I was a fan of Blend-S. I wrote about it after 5 episodes in our Half-Term Report in relatively good terms. The comedy in this series is pretty good, mixing silly fun with some quite strong, adult humour which does a great job of keeping the show interesting. However, after the midway point Blend-S became a slog. Like many series, the comedy begun to take a backseat as a story was fleshed out and delivered. Unfortunately, the story wasn’t just uncomfortable – I never managed to get over the fact that the rich, foreign owner is trying to chat up the naïve young maid he pays to work for him – it was also not very well delivered. The rom-com side of this story is poorly written, with so much reliance on nosebleeds for laughs, for some reason. More alarmingly, there seems to be a real lack of heartfelt emotion, causing the scenes that are supposed to be majorly romantic to feel like they’re on the edge of pulling some cheap joke, which stops you from ever getting really involved. I’ve seen bad series like this before that at least had a good romance element to them – Masamune-kun’s Revenge immediately springs to mind – but this romance just falls flat.
It’s a shame, because there is actually a great set of characters behind the ill-fated, ill-advised romance. The café is a lively place with vibrant people and plenty of laughs which make the first few episodes really fun to watch. However, a lack of ideas in terms of how to pull off a rom-com eventually turned this series a little stale.
ANIME RANKING: #74 – The core idea lets down an otherwise decent comedy, placing it behind series such as Servant x Service and ahead of Re-Life and Masamune-kun’s Revenge.
If you liked this you’ll love: Wagnaria!! (#38) – Probably the most frequently recommended series on The Culture Cove, Wagnaria is the godmother of the workplace comedy. Also set in a small restaurant, both these series combine an energetic workplace filled with wacky workers with a core romance that develops the story. While Blend-S falters with its unconvincing romance, Wagnaria doesn’t just deliver a string of good love stories but also delivers comedy on a much higher level, making this a must-watch anime series!
Everyone has that series that they know is good, but they just can’t get into it…
For me, these series all seem to be shows that I recklessly call ‘serious anime’. A current example of this is The Ancient Magus’ Bride. I love this series – it has great animation, a great soundtrack and a main character who despite an indifferent start has begun to win me over. Yet I’m five episodes behind. How can I say that I love a series when I’m so far behind?
Mushi-Shi is another one from my early anime days, and one that I think does a better job of explaining this phenomena. These two shows are not just beautiful, but they are also particularly detailed and at times thought-provoking. These shows are also series that are not afraid to disappoint the audience, injecting negative emotions into their series when the time is right. This leads to a much more rounded experience than most of the lively comedies or fast-paced action series that flood the market. These series demand respect that my tired mind often feels incapable of giving, meaning they collect dust on the shelf while we blaze through shows such as D-Frag within days (no offense intended).
Natsuyuki Renezvous took me an awful long time to complete. To put into context, I was aware of this series before I was aware of Mob Psycho 100 and Occultic;Nine, both of which were reviewed a year ago! Now, I stand by my argument that it is just not a very good series, but it is another series with deep and thoughtful moments along with some tearful characters, and there will always be a part of me wondering, could I have given it more of a chance?
What are those series that you know are good, but just can’t get yourself into? Let us know in the comments!